Latinos, Poverty & Food Insecurity

December 6th, 2010 · 6 Comments

By Melissa Beatriz Skolnick

The holiday season is always a time of giving. It is truly wonderful that people feel in a giving mood around this time and assist those less fortunate in any way that they can. I myself feel especially empathetic during the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and am conscious of the numerous clothing drives, food collection bins, and donated gifts being sought. Yet as soon as the holidays are over, this sense of giving tends to diminish at times, for various reasons.

According to an article published earlier this year from the Center for American Progress,  while 8.6 percent of Whites and 11.6 percent of Asians are in poverty, 23.2 percent of Latinos and 24.7 percent of African Americans fall below the poverty line.

Yet giving is necessary year round, not just to Latinos and African Americans, but to all communities. Opponents of this idea may say that giving the poor so much constant assistance will only enable these individuals though. While there may be some instances where this may be true, for the most part, it is not that simple. Despite popular belief, poverty is much more related to structural inequalities, rather than individual faults.

It’s also important to acknowledge the discrepancies related to issues such as poverty between racial groups, because although race is a social construction, it still serves as a very real and often forgotten symbol in our society; a symbol which has the tendency to yield grave consequences. The connection between a social issue such as poverty and racial inequality can be viewed through a lens of the food one purchases. Last week, Newsweek featured the dilemma of a divide between those who can afford healthier food and those who cannot and thus resort to less healthy and cheaper food. Yet this issue is not solely about class, which the Newsweek article mainly focuses on; it is much bigger than that. It’s about race, and the advantages or disadvantages that one may face accordingly.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 percent of Americans experience a household that is “food insecure,” which means that at times, a family may run out of money to buy food. In the article, Adam Drewnowski discusses how a nutritious diet is simply out of reach for the poorest Americans, and that low-income families do not tend to favor junk food and fast food because of a lack of nutritional knowledge. Rather, it is because this type of food tends to be less costly and taste better. In addition, many poor neighborhoods do not have access to supermarkets that are abundantly stocked. Overall, Newsweek asserts that food insecurity is linked to other areas such as housing and employment, but there is a lack of acknowledgment between the issue of food insecurity and race. Yes, food insecurity ties into social class and socioeconomic status, but these categorizations more importantly link to one’s race. If this were not the case, then groups such as Latinos and African Americans would not have higher percentages of people facing poverty compared to their counterparts.

The point is that at times, it is not so much that people are voluntarily choosing a certain lifestyle, but instead, larger societal and institutional factors may be playing a large role on any given outcome. Essentially, we must continue to assist those who face poverty, both now, and after the holiday season. In the meantime, it is necessary to advocate for changes in policies to be created, in order to eradicate the racial inequalities that continue to exist and affect societal issues such as poverty and food insecurity.

Melissa Beatriz Skolnick is currently a graduate student attaining her Master’s in Social Work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She strives to merge social work and journalism together in order to bring more awareness to various underrepresented communities, as well as to bring light to societal inconsistencies. In addition, she hopes to one day impact society through endeavors such as policy-making, writing through a widespread medium, and speaking to those who are willing to listen.

Tags: Economics

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anna // Dec 6, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Re: “Despite popular belief, poverty is much more related to structural inequalities, rather than individual faults.”

    I’m not so sure about that. Here in southern CA, I see people having more children than they can afford. If girls were taught not to have any children before age 30, and to use their 20s working/going to school and saving money, the poverty rate would go down. Women need to be taught how to use birth control and how to plan their families.

  • 2 HispanicPundit // Dec 6, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Me thinks Melissa Beatriz Skolnick needs to spend less time in the library and more time talking to actual poor people. I mean, we all had to write these articles in college to satisfy our Sociology professor – but I was under the impression that most of us knew better than to actually believe it. Do you really believe what you write here Melissa? Seriously?

    This whole post reminds me of an article I read in 2005 by Walter Williams that pretty much summarized poverty in the United States pretty well:

    Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.

    It’s really not more difficult than that. That covers something like 99% of poverty in the United States. The race factor is tenuous at best. Walter Williams explains:

    The Children’s Defense Fund and civil rights organizations frequently whine about the number of black children living in poverty. In 1999, the Bureau of the Census reported that 33.1 percent of black children lived in poverty compared with 13.5 percent of white children. It turns out that race per se has little to do with the difference. Instead, it’s welfare and single parenthood. When black children are compared to white children living in identical circumstances, mainly in a two-parent household, both children will have the same probability of being poor.

    How much does racial discrimination explain? So far as black poverty is concerned, I’d say little or nothing, which is not to say that every vestige of racial discrimination has been eliminated. But let’s pose a few questions. Is it racial discrimination that stops black students from studying and completing high school? Is it racial discrimination that’s responsible for the 68 percent illegitimacy rate among blacks?

    The 1999 Bureau of Census report might raise another racial discrimination question. Among black households that included a married couple, over 50 percent were middle class earning above $50,000, and 26 percent earned more than $75,000. How in the world did these black families manage not to be poor? Did America’s racists cut them some slack?

    The full article can be found here.

  • 3 Chicano future tense // Dec 6, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    The US Dollar continues to lose value and that translates into higher inflation-higher expensive prices for basic food commodities,gas and oil which means a jump in the “Misery Index” for Latinos.It will become much more difficult for Latinos to feed their families.
    You can thank both the Democrats and the GOP for this with their wall street goldman-sachs scam bailouts,stimulus plans and their costly and life wasting imperialist wars in Iraq,Afghanistan which they are losing.They ripped-off Latinos and gave their money to goldman-sachs and their gang of thieves and wall street banker crooks.They sent Latinos to the middle east to kill other brown kill them for their oil resources,for obscene profits for the oil companies.

    Most likely, things will continue to deteriorate with the collapse of the economy,unemployment and further divisions of our society.Latinos will slowly sink to the very bottom of American society and remain there indefinitely as a “super underclass” comprising a new type of “untouchable” class in an American style caste system based on race,language and culture.

    It’s a sad fact that Latinos and other poor people don’t have many options to choose from under the existing political system.
    Just more lies,manipulation and exploitation under the existing two party Para dyne.

    The capitalist system is a zero-sum game where some win while others lose.It operates by a dog-eat-dog philosophy.It also operates under an highly racist and xenophobic structural hierarchy.Whites at the top Asians next then Blacks and Latinos at the very bottom.

    Leadership for Latinos is truly pathetic and a real farce.Cowardly,incompetent,unintelligent and opportunist politicians and national social organizations and groups.Legions of petty academics, liberal bureaucratic wannabes and NGO minions who are “professional” Latinos trying to pass themselves off as leaders from the comfort of their office suites and well paid positions.
    These professional Latinos make a living thanks to Latino poverty.
    The “poverty pimp” business is live and well these days.It has become a veritable “cottage industry” for thousands of petty opportunists,careerists and marketers who make money off Latino misery and poverty.These people in the words of Obama make ..”just words,just speeches”..

    These parasites on the Latino body politic are everywhere and Latinos at this time are their captives- under their control.Latino ignorance,backwardness and desperation plays right into their hands.

    These “professional Latinos” making endless excuses defending the status quo –at this time mostly establishment liberal democrats who desire to keep Latinos political slaves on the Democratic Party plantation to be harvested for votes then thrown into the garbage can.
    The vast majority of Latinos despise and reject the GOP with their racism and xenophobia,their stupid Tea Party and even stupider Sarah Palin .Latinos are turned off to the GOP and in terms of getting Latinos onto their plantation the GOP are duds.. no-show.. ineffective ,they at this time do not pose any serious threat of co-optation on the same level as the Democratic party.The GOP is basically a big joke as far as Latinos are concerned…they are almost laughable buffoons for the time being.Bunch of payasos.

    “Professional Latinos” are nothing more than peddlers of “change and hope” dope -stringing Latinos along indefinitely with endless excuses,rationalizations,phony lies and empty promises to keep Latinos hooked.
    It’s a cruel, and cynical vicious cycle.

    The cold reality is that Latinos are going to have to do it themselves-defend themselves..refuse,resist and fight back even if it means taking to the streets or resorting to civil disobedience in similar ways we see the valiant Dream Act youth activists doing lately.

    I’m sure Latinos will eventually stop listening to the lies and phony promises of “change and hope dope”..they will begin to look around and seek other voices..grass roots,community progressive activists,socialists and communists with alternative ideas,strategies-tactics and plans for real change-
    for immigration,jobs,education,justice,opportunity and against war and imperialism around the world.

    Until they realize this they will just continue to have more of the same.
    Things will just get worse.

  • 4 HispanicPundit // Dec 6, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Btw, I must say that though I often disagree with Anna, it’s really refreshing to see someone say it as it is – just shoot from the hip, without the concern of being wrong or offensive. We need more of that in today’s politically correct environment.

  • 5 irma // Dec 8, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I agree with Anna. I grew up poor, my parents married when they were in their late twenties, so they knew something about birth control. But they didnt exercise what they knew. 6 children, no health insurance, no dental care – everyone crammed into a 2 bedroom apartment. I asked once why they chose to live that – there was no answer. I think the problem is cultural. Everyone in our neighborhood lived that way – s0 people thought that is how life was supposed to be.

    My siblings responded by producing much smaller families resulting a higher quality of life.
    Cultural change takes time.

  • 6 guadalupe Cervantes // Sep 16, 2011 at 1:38 am

    If we could only explain the literacy in the United States among whites, the dominant culture and see all the mistkes they made. Wow, imagine how much of an opportunity people of color have. It does make a difference if you are part of the dominant culture instead of a sub-culture. You can’t talk about inequites of people if you don’t talk about class, gender, SES, education, etc. These social structures are their for a reason. They give certain power to some and others suffer. Historically, in this country, racisim has played an important role and continues to be prevalent. Ignorance creates the masses and therefore, these masses make big mistakes and become part of an under-class and yes, white trash is part of it. Although, as I always said if you are born white, or poor White your are borned privledged since you could always past for being part of the dominant cluture due to the color of your skin. But black or latino different since you will always be part of that subculture and social structure that maintains you under control. Yes, ignorance is a problem when you make a lot of wrong decisions like having a lot of babies that you can’t afford however, I’d rather not have to deal with racism and inequities while I’m having to raise my kids. Being a person of color does act as another major problem to deal with in this unjust world. Being White has a lot of advantages, believe me. It’s very different and makes a big…difference.

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